"Disruptive" detainees

The Pentagon confirms the report of a mass suicide attempt by prisoners at Guantanamo in 2003.

By David Teather

Published January 25, 2005 3:49PM (EST)

Twenty-three detainees at the Guantánamo Bay military camp made an apparent mass suicide attempt in an orchestrated protest in 2003, the United States confirmed Monday night. The captives tried to either hang or strangle themselves in their cells over eight days in August of that year. Ten made an attempt on Aug. 22.

The military did not say why it had not previously reported the incident, described by officials as "self-injurious behavior" -- an attempt to get attention rather than genuine attempts at suicide. The plan had been engineered, they said, to disrupt operations and unnerve new guards. Sixteen of the 23 are among 553 prisoners still at the camp. Many of the detainees have been held for three years without being charged.

Critics said the mass protest came in the same year that Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller assumed command of the camp in Cuba with orders to get more information from prisoners suspected of having links to al-Qaida or the Taliban.

Allistair Hodgett, a spokesman for Amnesty International in Washington, told the Associated Press: "When you have suicide attempts or so-called self-harm incidents, it shows the type of impact indefinite detention can have." In total there were 350 "self-harm" incidents at the camp during 2003, the military said. Last year there were 110 self-harm incidents. The military has reported 34 actual suicide attempts since the camp opened in January 2002.

David Teather

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